One Million Puerto Ricans Still Lack Drinkable Water

One month after Hurricane Maria, one million residents of Puerto Rico still do not have reliable access to clean drinking water, and three million still do not have electricity.

For a moment, just try to imagine if 80% of the population of a major U.S. city went without electricity for an entire month.

What would the response be? What would the news coverage be? What would the expectation be?

What would we be demanding of our reprehensibly checked-out president?

[Content Note: Neglect; video may autoplay at link] John D. Sutter at CNN reports from the ground in Puerto Rico:
Much of the island feels as if it were hit by a storm yesterday, not one month ago. Mountains are covered in branchless trees, stuck in the dirt like the walking sticks of giants. Power lines are tangled about like spaghetti dropped from the sky. Sheet metal from roofs and fencing has been turned into floppy strips of chewing gum, scattered on the hills. Not only are people such as Sostre exposed to the elements, but supplies of clean drinking water are woefully inadequate and environmental health experts fear a public health emergency could be brewing.

..."I thought we'd learned our lesson after (Hurricane) Katrina where the response was awful, both carelessly slow and incompetent," said John Mutter, a professor at Columbia University and an expert in international disaster relief. "In Puerto Rico, it doesn't look like we've learned anything at all — or we just don't care."

The situation is particularly bad when it comes to water.

There are 3.4 million people in Puerto Rico, and about 35% of households were without access to safe drinking water as of Tuesday, according to government estimates. The World Health Organization says each person needs at least 2.5 liters per day for drinking alone, with a recommended daily allotment of up to 15 liters per day including basic cooking and hygiene.

Yet FEMA has provided 23.6 million liters — 6.2 million gallons — of bottled water and bulk water since the storm hit on September 20, said Justo Hernandez, FEMA's deputy federal coordinating officer. That includes water delivered to hospitals and dialysis centers, he said.

That's only roughly 9% of the drinking water needs for the entire territory.

It's an even smaller fraction if you include basic cooking and hygiene needs.

...[M]any residents remain desperate, week after week, for drinking water.

Lines for water — potable or not — are long in many parts of the island. Rumors of contamination are rampant. Even as some taps turn back on, residents worry about drinking from faucets, which sputter and, in some locations, produce hazy liquid. Autoridad de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the water utility in Puerto Rico, says on its website that residents should boil the water and add bleach even after service is restored.
"Boil the water" is the instruction for people who also lack electricity. Again, I want you to imagine if anyone would find it acceptable for the federal government to expect one million people anywhere on the mainland to boil water over a fucking campfire for a month to survive.

People who are in dire need of water have begun drinking from toxic sites even though they know it's dangerous. One resident of Dorado, who was among people drawing water from a toxic superfund site, told Sutter: "If I don't drink water, I'm going to die. So I might as well drink this water."

The EPA has responded by hiring contractors to repair fencing around the site and stationing security guards to keep people out.

Access to food continues to be an urgent issue, as well. And the situation would be even more dire were it not for the efforts of Chef José Andrés and his nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, whose approximately 500 volunteers have "prepared and delivered a million meals to residents."

Andrés has vowed to stay and keep making food as long as there is a need.

Unlike the United States President, who tweeted that FEMA can't stay there forever — then proclaimed the very next day: "The wonderful people of Puerto Rico, with their unmatched spirit, know how bad things were before the H's. I will always be with them!"

That, six days ago, was his last tweet on the subject.

One million residents of Puerto Rico still lack access to drinkable water.

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